An ounce of safety management may be worth a pound of litigation

A workplace incident is any injury or illness that occurs at work for which the employee seeks medical treatment. With such a broad definition, it’s no wonder there were 114,000 reported incidents in Ohio in 2016, according to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation.

However, there’s a bigger concern. While that 114,000 was down 9 percent from the year prior, the average claim cost increased dramatically. So, the lower frequency is coming at the cost of higher severity, says Chas Lowe, commercial insurance specialist at Zito Insurance Agency Inc.

“That’s why companies need strong safety programs that can help identify the root cause of a workplace injury. It’s only after you boil it down that you can determine measures to either prevent or severely reduce the likelihood of it happening again,” Lowe says. 

Smart Business spoke with Lowe about safety in today’s workplaces.

Why use the term ‘incident’ over ‘accident’?

Incident is a better way to describe workplace injuries because an accident is considered a random event that typically couldn’t have been prevented. However, nearly every workplace event that results in an injury is preventable, whether that be from additional training, improved onboarding processes, adhering to a safety program or avoiding the activity altogether.

Which employers are most at risk?

Although any employer can be impacted, the highest rate of reportable accidents in the U.S. occurs in the health care and social service industries, followed by transportation and manufacturing.

No matter what industry a company operates in, unsafe actions and behaviors lead to an overwhelming majority of workers’ compensation claims — a staggering 96 percent.

How can employers minimize incidents?

All employers, regardless of size or industry, should implement a safety program with continual training and systematic processes to identify factors that may lead, or have led, to an incident or injury. Another key is ensuring temporary employees are subject to the same training as permanent employees.

A good post-incident investigation program is also important. These investigations provide insight into the root cause of the incident, help generate recommendations on how to fix what went wrong, and most importantly, include documented follow-up to ensure employees get back to work as quickly as possible, even if it’s not in the same role. Post-injury management is crucial. Outreach to injured employees keeps them engaged and may help stem additional claim costs in the form of lost pay and additional medical treatment.

Why are safety programs so important?

Regardless of the type of insurance — property and casualty, health or workers’ compensation — historical claim costs drive rates. Therefore, a safety program can help mitigate costs by reducing the number and severity of incidents and injuries. 

A strong safety program can help ensure safety is a part of the fabric of the company. While these programs are usually managed by human resources or a safety manager, to get true buy-in, employees need to see top management demonstrate their commitment to safety in every organizational decision.

How can employers get started? 

To start a safety program, contact your insurance broker, third party administrator and/or managed care organization for help. A good broker will take a hands-on approach in helping you to develop a program and give you access to resources to help tailor the program to your specific needs. 

What can employers do to make an existing program more effective?

Bring in a third party to audit the safety program. If it’s done internally, employees may shy away from pointing out the flaws because it was implemented by a superior and they don’t want to speak out of turn. A third party will give an unbiased opinion as to how effective the program currently is and where they think it could be improved.

Also, it’s important to view safety as a living-breathing process and to empower your employees and encourage management to continually think of ways your safety program could be improved.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Zito Insurance Agency Inc.